March 6, 2013 11:48:42 AM
STARKVILLE - Hours before Mississippi State's 14-2 victory over Mississippi Valley State Tuesday night, The Dispatch MSU Sports Blog spoke to Baseball America senior writer Aaron Fitt about the Bulldogs non-conference schedule and the subsequent undefeated streak that has followed throughout the first month of the 2013 season.
The perception of the schedule is as follows:
MSU (16-0) is not playing quality competition as of yet and while it's their right to schedule whoever they please, it makes the evaluation of the ball club more complex until Southeastern Conference play.
The fact MSU hasn't left Dudy Noble Field at all makes the evaluation even more difficult due to the perceived comfort factor of playing all your non-conference games so far in Starkville.
So with those two elements being the obvious variables to a successful evaluation of this MSU club, Fitt said the Bulldogs must counter those by being a one-word description in these non-conference matchups: dominant.
And that's exactly what MSU has done in these first 16 games - dominate.
"I do think it is worth mentioning they haven't even left home yet and we're almost a month into the season," Baseball America senior writer Aaron Fitt said. "I tend to prefer teams that go out and at least schedule one competitive weekend series before conference play. On the other hand, I know that schedule is intentional by their coaching staff so it you're going to do that, dominate. And that's exactly what they've done."
With its 14-2 victory Tuesday night over Mississippi Valley State, the Bulldogs matched the nation's longest active home winning streak at 19 straight games (tying Manhattan College) and can overtake the Jaspers this weekend with a Friday night test against the University of Central Arkansas (12-1), who are projected to contend for the Southland Conference title.
"They have a really good club that beat us last year and they put us out to the wolves last year and we won a SEC championship," MSU junior outfielder Hunter Renfroe said.
Renfroe, a preseason candidate for the Golden Spikes Trophy given to the nation's best college baseball player, had 2 for 3 evening that included a massive two-run home run
in the sixth inning. Tuesday night marked his fourth multi-RBI game and first since coming back from a slightly fractured right hand.
"We have to take every game we play here early seriously and let's face it - tonight we weren't really doing that at first," Renfroe said. "The one I hit out surprised me but the hand and swing are really feeling good for him. I've told Coach Cohen I'm physically fine and I can be in the lineup everyday."
The most important evening in this mid-week blowout certainly came from junior college transfer Bret Pirtle as he had his first multi-hit game of the 2013 season along with showcased the defensive skills that made him an attractive commodity for the Bulldogs coaching staff.
The Texas native tripled and scored during a two-run second inning burst that gave the Bulldogs a lead they would not surrender. Pirtle opened the fourth inning with a solo home run, his first of the year.
"We obviously did always think Brett is going to hit eventually but what he does defensively and athletically for our ball club is what we knew would be valuable immediately," MSU coach John Cohen said.
MSU starting pitcher Brandon Woodruff struggled mentally from the start in his 12-pitch outing that saw the former 5th round draft pick out of high school only get one out in the opening inning. Woodruff crossed up not only MSU pitching coach Butch Thompson but also his catcher and first baseman leading to a hit by pitch, an error and eventually the first run on the scoreboard by MVSU (2-12). After Delta Devils scored on a RBI ground out, Cohen immediately made a battery change and went with left-handed reliever Luis Pollorena and senior catcher Mitch Slauter off the bench.
"We felt like early on Woodruff didn't have his command and I think in the long run it'll be really good for him because he'll be able to point back to this and learn from it," Cohen said.
The MSU bullpen of Pollorena (3-0), Preston Brown, Trevor Fitts and John Marc Shelly contained the Delta Devils to just four total hits through the final 8 2/3 innings.
MSU is second in the country behind Oregon State in runs allowed per game at 1.6 and have been defeating each of their 16 opponents this season by an average of six runs per game. The Bulldogs bullpen has been dominant as Thompson continues the schedule responsibly taking care of his starters' arms with strict pitch counts. MSU relievers have only allowed six earned runs in 68 innings and are holding opponents to a .162 batting average.
"We're going to find out a lot about our club throughout this season no doubt but I really believe every time we go out there, the two things we're going to do is pitch it and play really good defense," Cohen said.
All of the Dispatch MSU Sports Blog readers: feel free to follow me on Twitter at http://twitter.com/matthewcstevens for up-to-date Mississippi State coverage.
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